Driving the Digital Experience: Challenge Meets Opportunity
With all of the recent announcements around new over-the-top (OTT) offerings for both video on-demand (VOD) and live, live linear, and live events-based content, it is hard to hide the excitement and renewed enthusiasm this news has brought to the digital media industry. Whereas previously the PC was pretty much the only device content needed to be tailored to—both in terms of content digitization and playback using rich media experiences—consumers are now expecting consistent and seamless experiences on their mobile devices, tablets, various OTT devices, gaming consoles, and connected TVs. As a result, throughout the last 12 months industry leaders have seen a 2X increase in average viewing time, a 2X increase in average bitrate, and 2X increase in the average number of viewers—an 8X increase in aggregate. In fact, this growth is higher than what we have seen over the last 11 years, collectively. We believe—along with most analysts in this space—this trend will continue to accelerate during the next 12 months. Here’s why:
- Broadband speeds continue to grow, allowing the world to consume higher video quality.
- The quantity of premium content available online continues to grow.
- The number of connected devices capable of consuming content continues to grow.
- Monetization models continue to evolve and, whereas even a year ago each discussion around monetization seemed to start and end with “…not trading analog dollars for digital pennies,” today the value and importance of digital experience and revenues derived from that experience is a top priority for content aggregators and distributors.
- Current distribution models are colliding with the changing nature of how media is consumed by newer generations who have grown up on the internet (to understand this one, just observe any 15-year-old while he or she is consuming media).
OTT Video Growth Brings New Challenges
All of these trends are very exciting indeed! However, with rapid growth comes new challenges and growing pains which, if not managed properly, can have profound implications on a pace of change and the overall industry health and growth.
To put things in perspective, growing from a few hundred live linear channels and a few tens of thousands of live events per year to thousands of live linear channels and hundreds of thousands of live events per year—and delivering them consistently across an ever-growing ecosystem of IP-connected devices—will require major changes to the workflow and delivery pipeline. Workflow, in its simplified version consists of ingest, digitization (encoding in one or more formats), security (applying some kind of encryption of digital rights management), and publishing to the origin(s) (content origination point) on a CDN or cloud location where multiple CDNs can pick it up. Delivery pipeline, in its simplified form, consists of intelligent content acquisition from the origin(s), proper caching across the CDN network, and targeted delivery to the client devices. With the anticipated growth, one can easily see that both workflow and delivery pipeline will need to adapt in order to scale and accommodate this growth.
A Necessary Platform Solution
This brings us to the root of the problem: Scaling workflow today means adding additional encoders every time an operator either needs to add an additional linear channel, or is exceeding the maximum number of concurrent events it can support with the existing number of encoders. There is no way to dynamically scale up (i.e., when they need more) and down (e.g., when they need fewer) as requirements change (e.g., in the next 30 days an operator needs a capacity of 20 linear channels but starting day 31, the operator needs to increase to 50 linear channels and then again starting day 70 operator needs to go down to 15 channels). There is no easy way to manage changes (e.g., adding/removing channels or formats), integrate with the security pipeline including managing the security pipeline (e.g., key management) and measure and track performance of the entire workflow pipeline. On top of these technical challenges with scaling, the cost per channel (both in time and direct financial cost) is substantially higher than what operators are willing to invest. Unless there is a platform solution that can dynamically manage all workflow aspects and can leverage, to scale, existing hardware resources and the virtualization layer [on-premises and/or in the cloud (private or public)], as demand grows to meet the needs of the market, the growth will quickly hit the wall and the existing infrastructure and services will fail.
Even if these platform changes are made to keep pace with the growing market, scaling delivery could prove to be an even tougher challenge. For example, if a particular event generates 1 million concurrent viewers at average bitrate of 1.5Mbps, the required capacity to deliver this single event alone would be at minimum 1.5Tbps. What about if there are multiple events happening at the same time, or the adoption of watching linear channels grows to the point where just 10 percent of U.S. households start using it (or approximately10 million households)? Even if only one device per household is accessing the content at an average bitrate of 1.5Mbps (note: this average will continue to grow), that is 15Tbps! Without discussing capacities of any of our leading CDNs, it is clear that to support this volume of traffic, some type of traffic federation among CDNs and cloud providers will need to exist in order to give us much needed large aggregate capacity.
And as if that is not enough, there are other challenges which also cannot be ignored, including the following:
- Multi-format strategy in order to enable playback on all devices. Currently there is an effort by the MPEG DASH group to standardize format strategy to a single format so workflow would have to support only a single format instead of having to support multiple formats (e.g., Apple HLS, Microsoft IIS Smooth Streaming, Adobe HTTP Adaptive).
- Consistent DRM support across multiple devices.
- Metadata (VOD and EPG) across multiple platforms: authenticated and properly federated metadata feeds with various data filter options, including device specific outputs, dynamically scalable to accommodate any number of concurrent metadata requests.
All this will require a much broader collaboration effort among key industry stakeholders across the ecosystem and new levels of innovation for both the workflow and delivery parts of the overall video pipeline.
In summary, these are very exciting times that will reveal major opportunities to ultimately solve for the aforementioned challenges, and in the process, evolve how the world digitizes and consumes its media to grow our industry to new heights.
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